Would you like to learn how to play the electric guitar? With high-end models from companies like Gibson and Fender costing thousands of dollars each, buying a new electric guitar can seem like a very expensive decision.
Thankfully, there are a wide range of inexpensive, high quality electric guitars out there that are perfect for beginners. From the famous Les Paul to the Stratocaster, read on to discover the best electric guitar for beginners.
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From pickups to frets: the basics of electric guitar
All electric guitars share a few common components: pickups, frets, tuning pegs, a body, and many other features. Each of these play a role in determining whether or not a guitar is suitable for you as a beginner.
Pickups are the black and gray components that sit underneath the strings on your guitar’s body. They’re responsible for converting the sound produced by the strings into a signal that your amplifier turns into sound.
The type of pickups in your electric guitar make a big difference to the type of sound it produces. Single coil pickups – made up of just one pickup – produce a clean, more acoustic sound. Humbuckers – two pickups joined together into one – are better for players that want a more distorted, rock n’ roll sound.
Every guitar has frets – the lines along the neck of the guitar that determine the note that’s produced every time you pick at a string. Most electric guitars have either 21 or 24 frets. As a beginner, either option is suitable for you, but if you’re particularly interested in learning lead guitar, it’s best to choose a guitar with 24 frets.
Finally, the type of neck that your guitar has will determine its sound. Bolt-on necks are made from a separate piece of wood from the guitar’s body and bolted on, hence the name. Set necks – or neck-through-body guitars – are set into the body for better sustain and richer, more pleasant sound.
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Strats, Les Pauls, and SGs: the basic electric guitar models
There are hundreds of different electric guitar models, ranging from the timeless and conservative to the radical and shocking. For the most part, as a beginner you will want to choose from three models: the Les Paul, Stratocaster, or SG.
The Les Paul was originally produced by Gibson, one of the world’s largest guitar manufacturers, in 1952. Named after the famous blues guitarist, the Les Paul has been endlessly copied by other manufacturers over the last 60 years.
The SG was also originally produced by Gibson. Intended as a lightweight, cheaper replacement for the Les Paul, the SG was introduced in 1961 and became the most popular guitar manufactured by the company.
The Stratocaster was originally produced by Fender. One of the world’s most well-known guitar shapes, it has been endlessly copied by hundreds of manufacturers in many different configurations.
Most beginner electric guitars are available in one of these three styles. Because the original manufacturers’ versions are so expensive (a Gibson Les Paul starts at over $1,000 USD) most beginners choose to purchase a third-party copy.
Learn more about the basic electric guitar models and how to play them with our course, Learn to Play Guitar: Complete Beginner’s Quick Start.
Good electric guitars for beginners
Although the original manufacturers’ versions of the Les Paul, SG, and Stratocaster are prohibitively expensive for most beginners, each company offers a lower-priced version aimed at newbie guitarists.
Epiphone was a musical instruments company founded in the late 19th century as one of Gibson’s top competitors. Although it originally competed with the famous guitar manufacturer, Gibson eventually made the brand part of its own company.
Today, Epiphone produces low-cost versions of Gibson’s famous guitars, including the Les Paul and SG. Their guitars are manufactured using high quality materials to emulate the look and feel of a real Gibson, without the four-figure price tag.
Most beginners will enjoy the Epiphone Les Paul Standard – the company’s standard version of the Les Paul. This model is built to the same high standards as the Gibson guitar, and features a beautiful flame top for a stunning, timeless look.
The Les Paul is arguably the best all-round beginner electric guitar. Its thick body is ideal for blues, jazz, and other sustain-heavy styles of music, while the humbucker pickups also make it suitable for rock and heavy metal.
Love to play rock n’ roll and heavy metal? The Epiphone SG standard was built from the ground up for hard rock. Its thinner body makes it lighter than the Les Paul, and its dual cutaways make accessing the high frets far easier.
Finally, the Fender Stratocaster is available from Fender’s low-cost arm Squire. The models produced by Squire use the same design as their Fender counterparts, with cheaper materials and labor used to reduce the guitar’s retail price.
Squire Stratocasters are available with single coil and humbucker pickups. If you’re a fan of heavy metal and rock n’ roll, you’ll want to purchase a model with a bridge humbucker pickup installed for a better overdriven and distorted sound.
Not sure what type of music you’d like to play? Read our blog post on the Best Way to Learn Guitar to discover the best way to learn rock n’ roll, heavy metal, jazz and experimental music, or classic blues.
You’ve selected a guitar. Now what?
Buying your electric guitar is only the first step in learning how to play. You’ll also need to buy a guitar amplifier or, if you’d like to play using your computer, a digital effects pedal to connect your guitar to your computer’s sound card.
Ready to get started? Enroll in our course, Complete Guitar System – Beginner to Advanced, to learn the basic skills of electric guitar, as well as some simple songs you’ll be able to pick up in no time at all.